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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of June 2, 2015

I began video recording the City Council in 2012, because of my desire that the City do it on their own as any modern 21st century community began doing long ago. I had people tell me that they couldn't make it to the meetings, but they would like to see what is going on. I was also told by some council members that my summaries did not truly reflect the record, so having a video/audio recording cannot be misinterpreted.

So below is the City Council meeting. With each agenda item, you can click on the links and it will take you to that specific point in the meeting. You can always drag the marker on the video display to the point in the broadcast that you are interested in seeing.

***Final Release***

 Agenda about the City Council meeting of June 2, 2015


Hound Notes:No one showed up for Persons Requesting to be Heard. No one showed up to speak, either for or against, about the City Budget. It was a relatively short meeting considering what was discussed even though the City Manager went over it pretty thoroughly. The only part that I didn't care much about was the amateur politics in the Council's discussion about how Raleigh and Washington are negatively impacting Hickory's budget. In my opinion any Raleigh and Washington impacts on the budget are related to the depressed economy. Every community, especially those our size and smaller, are having to deal with those issues.

In relation to the budget, there was a fairly angst filled Letter to the Editor from the Hickory Daily Record, in which the author issued a call to arms for people to show up and speak against the proposed property tax increase. the author himself didn't even show up much less anyone else. It is clear that at this time that the people of Hickory could care less about much of anything. As I said above no one spoke for or against this budget and the tax increase.


Invocation Rev. George Coates, Pastor Hartzell Memorial United Methodist Church and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

Consent Agenda: Three items (D,E, and H) were removed from the Consent Agenda . 

D. Approval to Write-off Uncollectable Accounts Totaling $227,716.22, in Accordance with North Carolina General Statutes. - North Carolina General Statutes establish all street assessments and property taxes that are over ten years old and are no longer collectable, and should be written off in
conjunction with the annual audit. For the current fiscal year (FY2014-2015), there are no street assessments to be written off, but $88,081.21 in unpaid property taxes that exceeds the ten year limitation. The City of Hickory’s Accounting Division requires all other accounts that are over eighteen months in arrears be written off to comply with “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles” in order to more fairly represent financial assets of the City on the balance sheet. For the current fiscal year, this amount is $139,635.01. The Finance Division will continue to pursue collection of the debts. All eligible accounts over $50 are submitted to the North Carolina Debt Setoff Program for collection. As of May 5, 2015, the City of Hickory has collected $30,525.59 from the garnishment of North Carolina State tax refunds and North Carolina State lottery winnings during this fiscal year. Staff recommends approval to write-off uncollectable accounts for Fiscal Year 2014-2015.
The City Manager made the point that Hickory Inc. would continue to pursue monies. The Mayor wanted to point that some very large items are amongst these write-offs. He just wanted the issue further clarified.

E. Approval of a Termination of Lease Agreement for Property Located at 470 Highway 70 SW. - In June 2004, the City entered into a ground lease agreement with the Hickory Jaycees for a building located at 470 Highway 70 SW. The term of the lease was for twenty-five (25) years with a lease fee of one dollar ($1.00) per year. The Jaycees used the building and parking for their meetings and events. Due to several factors, including the need for repairs to the building, the Jaycees informed City Staff the organization had found an alternative location for their meetings and events as of January 2015. Both parties mutually desire to terminate the agreement at this time. Staff requests Council approve the Termination of Lease Agreement between the City of Hickory and the Hickory Jaycees for the property located at 470 Highway 70 SW.
Alderman Meisner asked if Hickory Inc. had decided what they wanted to do with the building. The Mayor wanted to know about the condition of the building. The City Manager said that they would be coming forward to the Council soon with what some thoughts about what they might want to do.

H. Approval of Invitation to Bid and Contract to Huffman Grading Co. Inc. in the Amount of $121,287 for Additional Parking at Glenn C. Hilton Jr. Recreation Park. - The paved parking lot will be constructed directly across 6th Street Drive NW from the existing Glenn C. Hilton, Jr. Recreation Park to provide  overflow parking spaces for the facility. Work under the contract will include clearing, grading, paving, curb/gutter and fencing. The Traffic Division will provide the crosswalk on 6th Street Drive NW and parking lot striping. Landscape Services will provide landscaping and Building Services will provide area lighting for the parking lot. Informal bids were received on May 22, 2015. Staff recommends awarding the contract to the low responsive, responsible bidder, Huffman Grading Co., Inc. in the amount of  $121,287 for the construction of Glenn C. Hilton, Jr. Recreation Park additional parking lot.
Alder Patton wanted to know about crosswalks and remarked about the curviness of the road. Mack McLeod made statements related to this property. There will be  pedestrian signals. It will be a gated lot with an automatic gate. It will only be opened when the park is at capacity. Alderman Lail had reservations about the design and he wanted to see the plans/drawings/design. This is directly across from houses. Chuck Hanson addressed several of the issues the Council was concerned about.  There was a thought related to the speed along that area. Alderman Guess was concerned about delays and the effect on the plan. The issue was continued to a later meeting, so that Council could see the plans, and the Council agreed unanimously.

New Business - Public Hearings
1. Public Hearing on the City Manager’s FY2015-2016 Recommended Annual Budget. - Pursuant to NC General Statutes §159-12(b), a public hearing shall be held before adopting the budget ordinance. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on May 22, 2015. Copies of the budget ordinance were filed for public inspection in the Office of the City Clerk, Patrick Beaver Memorial Library and Ridgeview Library. The recommended budget is also posted on the City’s web page, Pursuant to NC General Statutes §159-13(a), the City Council is required to adopt a balanced budget before July 1, making the appropriations and levying taxes for the budget year. The City Manager recommends adoption of the attached budget ordinance for Fiscal Year 2015-2016. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on May 22, 2015.
Manager Berry went over the recommended budget in much the same way as he had two weeks prior. Property taxes and the General Fund have generally been flat. The General Fund was $40 million in 2004-05 and the presently proposed budget is $46 million. Property tax has gone from $21.5 million to $23.5 million in that time frame. The budget is actually smaller than last years. The Water Fund is self sustaining along with the related composting/waste facility. He went over other internal service funds that have money budgeted.related to general Accepted Accounting Procedures that he says overstate the budget. He addressed the revenue neutral rate for property taxes. Once again he went over the privilege tax and the negative impact on City revenues. Big dollar changes are related to the utility fund related to the water and sewer fund. He stated that we are seeing strong growth in sales tax so far this year. He is not recommending any new hires. He spoke of major capital projects that total $5.5 million. Recycling is 83.5% self-supporting. He shows that the average household will pay an addition $3.67 in property tax and an additional $2 waste fee for a total $5.67 per month.
Alderman Seaver asked about the self-sustaining waste fund? The City Manager says that cities do that differently based upon philosophy, so do it through tax and some through fees like Hickory. Alderman Seaver asked about the sales tax legislation in Raleigh. Manager Berry went over how proposed legislation could negatively impact the City.  It could be changed/recalculated to reimburse counties and municipalities on a per capita basis. This could mean a possible increase of property tax in the future. The Council had a lot of angst over this issue. Alderman Lail was the voice of reason in explaining what the goal of the State of NC is, which is to try to get rid of the Income Tax in NC and replace it with the Sales Tax. The Mayor talked about people saying, "...I hear all this stuff, but don't mess with my status quo." As stated above, none one from the public spoke for or against the budget and it passed unanimously.

Hound Note: I am going to go over the Property Tax numbers in the near future to see if they are truly revenue neutral. Please remember that the assessment are a function of the Catawba County government, not the Hickory City government.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Authorize Staff to Apply for the US Department of Transportation TIGER Discretionary Grant in the Amount of $27,500,000. - The TIGER Discretionary Grants provide funding up to 80 percent of project costs in urban areas for surface transportation infrastructure project that will have a significant impact on the nation, a region, or metropolitan area. There is a $10 million dollar minimum funding request. The City of Hickory’s TIGER request will be $27.5 million dollars. Funds will be used for critical  infrastructure improvements such as streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, gateways, trails, and streetscape to promote the City as a choice location to live, work and play, and one where businesses want to locate, invest and expand. The match requirement is 20 percent of the grant award. The $40 million dollar bond referendum will serve as the non-federal funding match. Staff recommends Council authorize Staff to apply for the TIGER Discretionary Grant in the amount of $27,500,000.
Assistant City Manager Andrea Surreatt presented the information. She stated that the grant application has come up fairly quickly. The project opportunity is related to the City walk. She is asking the Council's permission to apply for the grant. She says the city walk has the most detailed cost estimates prepared by Land Design through Inspiring Spaces initiative. She said that 60 days ago a $500 million spending pool was announced. She says they have until Friday June 5, 2015 this grant came right up on the radar. She says that other projects are concepts on paper and haven't had any engineering done, but this project has mre detailed information. She went over the City Walk purpose and desire to redevelop the areas along it. We would hear in early September if we were awarded the grant and the City would have to decide if they were ready to move forward. The City is obligated to have a signed and executed grant agreement with the Federal Department of Transportation by September 30, 2015. The project must be completed by September 30, 2022. The Council and Ms. Surratt spoke about communities we will be competing against. The Council unanimously consented to go after this grant.
Hound Note: Anyone paying attention could see that the fix was in. Look at the agenda and it does not mention the "City Walk"/Linear Park in relation to this grant. By her account, Ms. Surratt states that this has been in the works for at least 60 days and Freese-Nichols helped with the application. A person I know who has worked on Federal Grants and Federal Grant writing says that it is highly likely that this grant has been on the radar a lot longer than that. 

It's fine that Hickory Inc. is going after this grant in my opinion, but why not be up front about it? There has certainly been a Shell game going on surrounding the projects related to the Bond Referendum. Where have the cost numbers been stated. We can definity see that the Bond Commission is a rubber stamp entity. The decision on what to do have already been made. I'm not seeing the transparency that was promoted late last year and early this year. Transparency is more than a talking point. It is an action.

Funny thing is the City and the Hickory Daily Record said this project would cost $27.5 million. When people scoffed at that number and the Bond Referendum drew closer, the Mayor said that they had seen this walk in north Charlotte, while visiting Land Design, and this project wouldn't cost anywhere near $27.5 million. Now, Andrea Surratt comes to the podium, speaks about this grant, the grant is for the "City Walk", she lays out details, and low and behold the number IS $27.5 million. Isn't politics ridiculous?

General Comments (per Hickory Inc.):
Mr. Berry recognized interns with the City for the month of June, Daisy Zavala-Vazquez from Lenoir-Rhyne University, and Melissa Loveless who just graduated from Western Carolina.
Mayor Wright commented about events in the community. The dinosaurs are back at the Science Center and the Sails Concert Series. Alderman Seaver mentioned the Tastin’, Tunes, and Tomatoes Farmers Market on the third Thursday in the month.

Mayor Wright commented about a posting on Facebook from one of his friends regarding her excitement with the new recycling plan. Alderman Seaver commented that his wife actually had a sign that said “Welcome Big Blue” regarding the big blue recycling can that was coming. Alderman Lail commended Public Services Director Chuck Hansen and Staff for their work in making the recycling program happen.

Alderman Seaver mentioned a Facebook friend in East Tennessee who is now a City Council member in Kingsport and President of a bank. He commented that his friend said that it is real exciting to see what is going on in Hickory. The word is spreading, people are hearing about it and knowing about it.
Mayor Wright commented that the Governor, Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate knows about us and what we are trying to do. He commented that the stars are lining up.

***Closed Session Per NC General Statutes*** 143-318.11(a)(1)(4) to consult with the attorneys regarding the following: (Action on these items, if any, will occur in Open Session) - Mr. Berry requested Council add to Closed Session potential litigation and existing litigation, Willie Grime versus the City of Hickory. (NCGS §143-318.11(a)(4))


Harry Hipps said...

Apathy still reigns. If the people don't participate then the local government will do whatever they want, wise or not. People will squawk once when the taxes go up then go back into their cages (currently Stef is going against LeBron so why fool with council?).

North Carolina NOW ( the public tv show ) spoke about plans being made now for water usage especially in times of drought. Given the acrimony I would wonder if Hickory is following or trying to have input on the policies that will govern reservoirs, rivers, lakes, and water sharing policies as growth and weather patterns affect this vital resource. Or are we just going to complain when another area wants to share the water?

Attention span, long term strategic planning, and public involvement are still missing here. So don't look for anything to be radically different any time soon.

wandaarnold1716 said...

Regards the recent property tax reassessment: Our assessment went up 11% while many neighbors around us went down. We contracted for our home in 2007 and closed in 2009. Since we contracted for the home, prices have dropped. We sent a thoroughly researched request for a reassessment and were denied. Thinking they probably automatically deny everyone the first time out, we appealed and my husband attended the appeal board hearing armed with three sales of homes almost identical to ours less than 6 months old. This is what the home would probably sell for today. He was told that the current market value of a home is not what the assessment is based upon. They seemed to be putting more emphasis on square footage (compared to what I don't know.) Could anyone explain to me how the tax assessment is REALLY calculated? It seemed to be based more upon the amount of money the county/city needs than the value of the home.